Siena is one of the most incredible cities of Tuscany, Italy, a praised UNESCO World Heritage Site and home of Palio, a famous Italian horse race that takes place twice a year. It’s a perfectly preserved medieval city with narrow streets and a very special cuisine.
History of Siena is traced back to the Etruscans and then to Romans. Later Siena developed into the magnificent Republic of Siena devoted to Ghibellines and eternal rival of Florence (Guelphs’ side). There is just no way you won’t fall in love with it!
She-wolf is one of the symbols of Siena. According to the legend, the city was founded by twins named Aschius and Senius. Actually they were sons of Remus and nephews of Romulus (another twin pair who founded Rome and they in turn were breastfed by she-wolf too). Aschius and Senius were made to flee Rome to escape the evil uncle who had killed their father and took the statue of the Capitoline Wolf to the place that was later called Siena. Story repeats itself, heh?
The streets of Siena are the quietest and the prettiest you’ve ever seen so, even if you don’t have enough time, don’t rush from one touristic site to another, have a glance around!
Here are the best things to do in Siena and a few words about our stay at Grand Hotel Continental – read on!
1.Piazza del Campo
If you follow any of three main old streets of Siena, you’ll find yourself at the Piazza del Campo, the main square of the city that once was a marketplace. It’s very unusual in shape and structure and is lined by Palazzi signorili. Although it’s not properly seen from my photos, Piazza del Campo is divided into nine sections starting from Palazzo Pubblico and presenting The Council of Nine, local oligarchs that ruled Siena from 1287 to 1355, the period of medieval prosperity of the city.
Some of the most famous city landmarks such as Torre del Mangia, the beautiful Palazzo Pubblico and the Fountain of Gaia are located there too – scroll below to read about them!
2. Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia
The most iconic building of Siena? Arguably, Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia because you’d see this Gothic palace with arched windows and its crowned bell tower on all the postcards and guides! Palace dates back to the 13th century when it served as a seat to the Government of the Republic of Siena.
Where did the name Torre del Mangia come from? Well, Giovanni di Balduccio, one of the first bellringers of the Tower, was nicknamed Mangiaguadagni or simply ‘Mangia (literally ‘Profit eater’ or ‘eater’) because he spent money easily in taverns and loved to eat, so the tower became known as “the Tower of the Eater”. If you have time, you can also climb the Torre del Mangia but beware that its total height is 102m and you have to climb over 400 steps.
3. Siena Civic Museum
I highly recommend you to visit Siena Civic Museum within Palazzo Pubblico for a few reasons. First of all, many notable artefacts are preserved there. Secondly, the views from Palazzo Pubblico over Tuscanian scenery are priceless!
And, the main one is that the majority of the rooms are decorated with colourful frescoes! I bet that some of you would visit Siena only to see the world-famous Allegory of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti commissioned by The Council of Nine in the 14th century. These frescoes are located in Siena Civic Museum too!
4. Fonte Gaia
Fonte Gaia is undoubtedly the most famous fountain of Siena. The roots of its title are unclear: some say that it represents joy, others – ‘the bride’, or Virgin Mary.
The first fontaine on this site was constructed in 1342, then in 1419 a marble frame by Jacopo della Quercia was added to it. The original construction is preserved in the museum, and the fountain we see today is a marble copy – but it looks amazing anyway.
5. Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
The 13th century Siena Cathedral that stays on the Piazza del Duomo is absolutely iconic. Its façade of polychrome marble and all the details are really impressive.
However, save your excitement till you enter the cathedral: its interior is all black and white, the Dome is golden on the inside, and the floor is decorated with picturesque marble mosaics too – for instance, you see the She-Wolf of Siena as soon as you enter the Duomo.
Another must-see attraction is the Biblioteca Piccolomini that houses the most impressive and the most colourful frescoes you would’ve seen in your life. Pinturicchio and his co-workers illustrated the life of Enea Silvio Piccolomini who became Pope Pius II there. Other artists that contributed to the beauty of the Cathedral are Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini.
Tip: we bought the pass that allowed us to visit the Siena Cathedral, Biblioteca Piccolomini, Baptistery and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo altogether saving both time and money.
6.Baptistery of San Giovanni
Battistero di San Giovanni was added to the cathedral in the 14th century – pop in to admire the frescoes known as “Vecchietta” by Lorenzo di Pietro and the hexagonal baptismal font designed by Jacopo della Quercia and Donatello among other masters who contributed to it. The entrance is from the Piazza San Giovanni.
7. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Just on the side of the cathedral there is another site to visit – The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo founded in 1869. If you’d like to see the Duomo treasures, fabrics and jewels, the original statues, the Stained-Glass Rose Window, and the altarpiece Maestà of Duccio di Buoninsegna of the early 14th century from the Cathedral, add it to your itinerary without hesitation!
8. Santa Maria della Scala
Another magnificent place to visit is Santa Maria della Scala hospital-turned-museum that once cared for the poor, seek and orphans. Now it’s considered one of the oldest hospitals of all times. Actually you can see in frescoes by Domenico di Bartolo how the diseases were treated in the Pilgrim’s Hall. It also has a few chapels, temporary exhibitions and the archeological collection on the lower floor.
9. Santuario di Santa Caterina
Saint Catherine is the main saint of Siena, and Santuario di Santa Caterina is supposedly located on the place of the house of her family (she had 24 siblings according to the legend, can you imagine!). The house where she was born in 1347 has been transformed into a sanctuary in the 15th century and new entrance was added in 1940s. Now it’s a place of pilgrimage for the religious people.
10. Church of San Domenico
The Church of San Domenico containing the reliquarium with St Caterina’s head is probably visible from every corner of Siena because it’s really huge! It was founded in the 13th century and has been rebuilt many times. And actually you can observe the panorama of Siena from the hill it sits on. The Church of San Domenico is located a little walk away from the old city centre – you can enjoy the aesthetics of little Italian streets on your way there!
11. Fortezza Medicea
Have a glance at Fortezza Medicea located near the Artemio Franchi Stadium. Its history reflects the rivalry between Siena and Florence as this Medici Fortress was erected by the order of Duke Cosimo Medici in the 16th century to control Siena after its defeat in the Battle of Marciano. Now you can have a nice stroll over its bastions! The statue in the photo represents Saint Catherine of Siena.
12. Siena National Gallery
Pinacoteca of Siena is one of the main attractions of the city but sadly it was closed during our visit. I really hope we’ll be able to return there after the coronavirus pandemic to see the masters of the 13th – 15th centuries!
Where to stay in Siena
We stayed in the 5-star Grand Hotel Continental Siena occupying the 17th-century palazzo in the historical center of the city. Just look at this view we had from the terrace of our room overlooking all the most beautiful architectural sights!
Last but not least, the hotel has its own wine cellar in the base of the building 🙂
Have you already fall in love with Siena?
Hope you enjoyed my blog!